A caricature of Mary Poppins flies over a rolling hill of people, and one boy looking up says, “She’s not wearing any panties.” One picture, a small amount of words and a ton of humor and laughs. This is the art and humor of Shel Silverstein. Unfortunately, most people do not know Shel for his humorous comics and off-color jokes. Shel is best known for his children’s poetry from books such as Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic and Falling Up. But Shel started as an artist, lived as an artist and, in fact, his words and poetry came much later.
“After getting out of the army, where he worked as a propaganda illustrator” he was let loose on the streets of New York city. (A boy named Shell, 1985) He pitched his art from place to place, but very few people wanted to use it. There were a lot of artists in the mid 60’s who needed work. Shel heard about a gentleman that was putting together a brand new kind of magazine, and he figured he would pitch him the stuff. In 2 days, Shel Silverstein became a regular contributor to the fledgling magazine of Playboy. He worked for playboy for the next 20 years, submitting art and various other items to Hef for publication. In fact, Shell lived at the playboy mansion for a number of those years, before he bought his beloved house in Massachusetts.
Amongst the items he wrote for Playboy, he also began writing poetry. Poetry that many see as great to day,as when it graced the pages of Playboy. Remember, when Playboy first came out it was considered a high brow magazine for the modern high end socialite that wanted to read good articles about interesting things, product reviews of the latest gadgets and smoking items, great literature and poetry, humorous art, and finally look at beautiful naked women. Not long after Shel started working at Playboy, he was given the assignment to be a traveling artist and writer. He traveled all over the world reporting back the things he saw, and drawing the things he wanted to show in another light other than the words he was learning to use.
After his return to the states, he began his hand at the stage. Many of his plays are either one acts, or meant to have very little characters in them. They were written for the word play, and the ability of an actor. One play in particular, “Meat”, only has two words spoken in the entire 2 acts: Meat and Potatoes. But the way the actors move and say these two words, tells the whole story. His plays delve into the odd idiosyncrasies of the human mind, and what we would do in the situation that was presented to us. Two of his more famous are the woman who discovers she is becoming a bag lady as she put a bowl of soup and some rolls in her purse. Another is a penniless bum who must deal with the fact that he has a talking dog, that will not perform or talk to anyone else.
Shel’s talent far exceeds that of the mere children’s poet, but because his items are stated to be “adult” in nature they are shunned and hid away. Many of the children’s poetry crowd doesn’t want to know that he was ever in the dreaded Playboy, or that he had even stepped into the mansion let alone lived there. They would rather keep Shel nestled into his little kids area, and listen to the children speak his poems. However, most of those poems started out as “adult” poems, so if the words seem like something vulgar or sexual would go there better, it’s possible that it originally did.